Friday night’s only A-10 game featured preseason #1 vs. #2, Dayton vs. Rhode Island. A lot of hype surrounded the nationally televised Flyer-Ram match-up going in and it certainly did not disappoint. Rhode Island led the entire first half, but, as always, Dayton continued to fight. Even without Charles Cooke the Flyers managed to take a slim second half lead and hang on to it. The win not only makes for a great 22nd birthday for Kendall Pollard (and Kyle Davis whose birthday is on Saturday), it also provides Dayton with a huge conference win early in the season. Here are the three biggest things we learned from watching the Flyers and Rams battle last night.
1. Dayton’s Defense Dominates
While this might not be a new observation, Dayton definitely confirmed it last night. The Flyers held Rhode Island to just 64 points and did a nice job of containing the Ram’s best players. Dayton held Rhode Island’s leading scorer, E.C. Matthews, to 13 points. Fellow Ram stars Jared Terrell and Hassan Martin were limited to only seven points each. By far the most impressive defensive statistic for Dayton, however, was the amount of Ram turnovers. Time after time the Flyers force opponents to commit uncommon turnovers and last night was no different. Rhode Island turned the ball over 18 times against Dayton’s stifling defense. Forcing steals enables the Flyers to do what they do best: get out and run. For Dayton, the offense feeds off the defense and the win over the Rams clearly resulted from a high level of defensive intensity.
2. Rhode Island Splashes from Downtown
Coming off an A-10 season high 16 threes against Saint Joseph’s, Rhode Island continued its hot streak against Dayton. Every time Dayton seemed to gain momentum, the Rams would respond with a huge three. Rhode Island’s drained 10 threes on 48% shooting from behind the arc against the Flyers. After the game I asked Dayton guard Scoochie Smith how demoralizing it was to face such a three point barrage. Smith said, “They were making tough shots… I just told the team they were going to have to make that all game. I mean if we lose like that with a hand up in their face then we’re just going to have to live with it.” If Rhode Island continues to hit threes at such a high rate, Friday night could mark the final conference game they lose all season. Opponents definitely need to start game planning for the Ram’s ability to splash from downtown.
3. Never Count the Flyers Out
You probably already don’t count Dayton out of games, but, if you do, STOP. The Flyers seemingly did more wrong than right last night and still found a way to beat one of the A-10’s best teams. Even when Dayton struggles to shoot and run an offense in the half court, the Flyer’s defense can keep them in any game. Dayton managed to hang around just long enough last night before taking a lead and grabbing the win late. Whether down by a little or a lot, the Flyers can always come back. A few weeks ago Dayton trailed Northwestern by 23 at the half but nearly fought all the way back to win. Because of its innate ability to convert defense into offense, the True Team ended up falling to the Wildcats by only three.
This past week Dayton managed to beat St. Bonaventure on the road before coming home to hand Rhode Island a loss. Both of these impressive wins came without star player Charles Cooke. The Flyers hope Cooke can return to the lineup Wednesday night at UMass. Not to forget, Dayton’s starting center, Josh Cunningham, has been sidelined since the second game of the season. If Cunningham can return around the middle of February, the Flyers will present further nightmares for the rest of the A-10. All in all, no matter the circumstances or injuries, never count Dayton out.